Saturday, April 17, 2010

TN firms feel impact from volcanic eruption

Nashville's Jim McEvoy was scheduled to arrive in Munich today to attend a major industrial trade show.
But with the airport there and others across Europe closed by the after-effects of Iceland's volcanic eruption, the chief executive for North American operations at The Wirtgen Group, a German road-building equipment maker with a headquarters in Antioch, can only hope that he'll be able to take an international flight through clearer skies by Tuesday.

"There's still concern that there'll be issues over Germany through the weekend and on Monday, which would push everything (back) further," McEvoy said.

The eruption of a volcano in the tiny, isolated island nation of Iceland is threatening to turn into a major headache for businesses across Europe — and as far away as the U.S. and Middle Tennessee — as the spreading ash cloud closes more European airports.

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Airlines are already counting the cost of grounded planes, and there's a growing fear about the transportation of food supplies and other essential goods should the flight disruptions persist for several days or longer.

For Wirtgen Group, the once every three years trade show, Bauma 2010, provides an opportunity to entertain customers and show off new equipment. "The financial impact is that we've put deposits down for hotel rooms and guaranteed events — booked venues, dinners, tours associated with this trip — and I'm unsure I will get refunded," said McEvoy.

Raoul Russell, who works for sewing machine manufacturer SVP Worldwide in La Vergne, spent much of Friday monitoring air travel across Europe to see if his flight to Germany on Monday would be canceled. Already, several of Russell's colleagues have seen flights delayed or scrapped.

"It looks like the earliest that the flights are going to resume is Saturday, possibly Sunday," said Russell, director of global transportation with SVP, which has a big sales and distribution center in Germany.

Mark Elliott, a Nashville folk singer and songwriter, expects to lose about a quarter of what he would have earned on a music tour through the United Kingdom. He was set to fly out of Nashville Thursday, but now is scheduled for a later flight set to leave Wednesday for London's Heathrow Airport.

Elliott will miss a promotional appearance on a BBC radio show because of the delay. "This time was only a 10-day tour, so it's a bigger impact," Elliott said. He toured longer in Europe last year.

Eurocontrol, the European air traffic agency, said some 16,000 flights were canceled on Friday, more than half the 28,000 that usually operate. Delays and cancellations will continue today as the ash cloud from the eruption of the volcano glacier moves south and east. The flight ban was imposed because of concerns about pilot visibility and jet engine failure from the ash.

Overall, there have been relatively few early reports of major impacts on exports and imports, but analysts stressed that the stakes will rise each day that airlines don't fly.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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